The built-in reaction

Jack White, the former singer and guitarist with The White Stripes, last week had a dig at Lady Gaga, describing her persona as "all artifice. It's all image with no meaning behind it". Then, rather confusingly, he issued an apology on his website a few days later, saying "I never said anything about her music, or questioned the authenticity of her songs in any way" ...

It's an interesting distinction for White to draw, particularly when he goes on to insist that this sort of "tabloid drama" (by which, I guess, he rather disingenuously means being "quoted out of context") only "encourages artists to not express their opinions in the press, and instead give polite sound-bites that don't stimulate thought about creativity and the consumption of art in its many guises".

Frankly, I'm disappointed in White because he did say something interesting about "art" in the interview but instead of sticking to his guns and spurring a debate about the quality of music (and art) consumed by the general public, he backed away from his insights and effectively killed the debate.

In the Esquire interview White takes exception to, he's quoted as saying: "The goal of modern celebrity is to make yourself into the lowest common denominator. 'Hey, I'm a guy just like you. I like a beer, a football game …' Especially in reality television, you'll see people will go so far as to make a fool out of themselves just to prove that. I don't want to see a reality show about Michelangelo."

When asked about Gaga, "who has been known to cook pasta at home in a wig and Louboutin heels, is [she] an example of a celebrity who really lives their vision?", White replied:

"I don't think she lives it because it's all artifice. It's all image with no meaning behind it. You can't sink your teeth into it. It's a sound-bite. It's very of this age, because that's what people want. They want a Twitter line, a Gif, a Jpeg, an MP3".

Or an inoffensive song.

I guess White saw the shit fight he'd stepped into attacking the world's most popular female singer, chose discretion and issued the above-mentioned apology. Sadly, he'd actually hit the nail on the head about the problem with most "art" and music nowadays - the artists don't live it.

As trite as it might sound, art is its own reward, and as much as artists would love to be acclaimed and financially rewarded for their efforts, the experience of producing art is more than enough fufilment - to be able to stand back and say "I did that", "I conjured that from nothing", "this never would have existed without me".

If it's not - get out of the business. And if acclaim and financial reward are the dominant motivations? Then you're not making art - it's kitsch. Chintz. Tinsel.

Or jingles like this.

This is not to doubt the sincerity of the "producers".

In his great critique of mass culture, Masscult & Midcult, the American essayist Dwight MacDonald demoralising insists "there seem to be two main conditions for the successful production of Kitsch. One is that the producer must believe in what he is doing."

MacDonald goes on to say: "A good example is Norman Rockwell, who since 1916 has painted over three hundred covers for the Saturday Evening Post. When a fellow illustrator remarked their craft was just a way to make a living - 'You do your job, you get your check, and nobody thinks it's art' - Rockwell was horrified. 'Oh no no no. How can you say that? No man with a conscience can just bat out illustrations. He's got to put all of his talent, all of his feelings into them.'

"Having just seen a most interesting exhibition of Rockwell's techniques at a local bank, I think he was telling the truth. He makes dozens of careful, highly competent pencil sketches. He makes oil renderings of details, for just one Post cover; if genius were really an "infinite capacity for taking pains", Norman Rockell would be a genius. The trouble is that the final result of all this painstaking craftmanship is just - a Post cover, as slick and cliche in craftsmanship as it is in content."

Try telling this to the seemingly limitless number of art directors, filmmakers, chefs, designers, hairdressers, musicians, photographers and stylists who try to pass themselves off as "artists" nowadays and see if you can get out alive from the biodynamic urban taco fabricator you're eating at.

Perhaps the largest single issue MacDonald has with these types - as he does with the likes of Rockell - is their inherent need to build in the reaction required from the audience to their work.

As with mouth-breathers who use the word "party" as a verb, the likes of Gaga and Matt Corby and Flight Facilities and Damien Hirst and Steven Spielberg and Bryce Courtenay and friggin' Underbelly might as well have their own laugh tracks - AKA THIS IS WHERE YOU CRY, GET ANGRY, HATE THE MAAAN!

"It is impossible not to identify the emotion [they] want to arouse. Sometimes solemn, sometimes gay, always straining to put it across like a niteclub violinist - Play, gypsy, play! One is never puzzled by the unexpected," MacDonald writes.

Or maybe I just misinterpreted him. And Jack White.

Oh, this is the part where you tell me I'm jealous.

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